Sarcoma, Soft Tissue: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

Most sarcomas do not have known causes. The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing sarcoma:

  • Previous radiation therapy. People who have been treated with radiation therapy for a previous cancer have a slightly increased risk of later developing sarcoma.

  • Genetics. People with certain inherited diseases have a higher risk of sarcoma. These diseases include neurofibromatosis type 1, also known as von Recklinghausen’s disease; Gardner syndrome; Werner syndrome; tuberous sclerosis; nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome; Li-Fraumeni syndrome; and retinoblastoma.

  • Immune system abnormalities. People with problems with their immune system have a higher risk of several types of cancer. Sarcomas can occasionally happen in people with an abnormal immune system, whether from infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or autoimmune conditions such as lupus or psoriasis. 

  • Lymphedema. People who have surgery for other reasons may have swelling of an arm or leg as a side effect of the surgery. This is called lymphedema. For example, lymphedema is common after breast surgery, when lymph nodes are removed from the armpit area. People can also be born with lymphedema. Sarcomas, such as angiosarcoma, occasionally form in areas where lymphedema had developed.

  • Chemicals. Workplace exposure to vinyl chloride monomer, which is used in making some types of plastics, Agent Orange, or dioxin may increase the risk of sarcoma. However, most sarcoma is not known to be associated with specific environmental hazards.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.